The last days before Mary Stuart‘s execution
In 1568 Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, had to flee and lost her crown, after she was accused of being involved in the murder of her husband. She seeked help and protection in England from her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. But as both women claim to be entitled to the English throne, Elizabeth fears for her crown and has Mary imprisoned in Fotheringhay Castle. Schiller‘s play begins 19 years later, three days before Mary was executed.Mary Stuart - Queen of ScotlandCatholic Mary, 1542 - 1587, Queen of Scotland since she was six years old.
Enchanted by Mary Stuarts beauty, young men attempted again and again to free Mary from her prison of Fotheringhay Castle. Likewise the young Mortimer only pretends to accept Elizabeth‘s order to assassinate Mary, to be able to get to her chamber and plan her escape. Following Mary‘s order, Mortimer tells Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, about their plans. Robert Dudley is currently the lover of Elizabeth but was Mary‘s lover before, which is why she counts on him still loving and protecting her. To solve his personal dilemma, Dudley arranges a meeting between the two queens and hopes that during this meeting, Elizabeth will decide to show mercy. But as the queens meet for the first time, the plan completely backfires. Elizabeth accuses Mary of hypocrisy and of killing all of her husbands, while Mary counters that Elizabeth is a hypocrite as well and that despite pretending to be virtuous and calling herself the Virgin Queen, she can‘t hide the fact her mother was Anne Boleyn, a woman widely seen as a witch and whore. Elizabeth storms off and the women are more at enmity than ever. An attempt to assassinate Elizabeth fails, and Mortimer commits suicide as he realises that Leicester never truly planned to help him. Elizabeth is torn between her desire to have Mary out of the way, and her wish to keep her hands clean, which is why she signs Mary‘s death sentence but places the responsibility on others. After Mary‘s execution is inevitable, she finally accepts her destiny as just punishment for partaking in the murder of her husband, to face death with a pure soul.Elisabeth I. - Queen of EnglandProtestant Elizabeth I.- The "Virgin Queen" Her optics obviously inspired the red queen in the "Alice in Wonderland" movie.
Elizabeth I finds herself in a difficult situation. As a queen she has no heir, which is why she pretends to be virtuous and calls herself „the Virgin Queen“. Her mother was Anne Boleyn, former queen of England, who gained popularity by sleeping her way on the throne, but betraying the king by not giving birth to a male hair and causing an outfall with the catholic church. She was beheaded for committing (incestuous) adultery, which is why Elizabeth‘s desire to appear particularly pure and virtuous is understandable. She wants to keep her hands clean from all sins but also fights as a protestant against the strong resistance of the catholic church, which is represented by Mary. As a woman, her social worth is determined by beauty and virtue. But while Mary was particularly beautiful, Elizabeth wasn‘t just tall, pale and red haired, but survived the smallpocks, leaving her half bald and dependent on wigs and cosmetics because of heavy scaring. She wore the most expensive and striking dresses, while applying the heaviest make-up, so that her dressing ceremony took four hours every day. Because she had a strong desire to eliminate all female competition, her maids and servants were only allowed to wear black and white. A desire that also shows in the execution of Mary and the competition around Robert Dudley. It strongly shows, that as a woman she was supposed to follow social codes and standards that she, as a queen, could never follow if she wanted to maintain her power. As woman she could never be a true monarch and as a queen she could never be a true woman.Blood between Queens After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth in 1586, and was beheaded the following year at Fotheringhay Castle.
Mary Stuart was in fact beheaded in 1587 for plotting against Elizabeth and their dispute was global politics at that time. The core events, the names of the characters, the setting as well as the religious and social issues of the time are accurate, portraying what Schiller and his contemporaries understood to be typical of the English Renaissance. Elizabeth is the typical representative of the authentic individual. As a woman and queen she can‘t find totality but is forced to live a life in appearance. Thereby she has to renounce all personal happiness. Although she constantly talks about freedom she depends on public opinion and the expectations of female leadership. Mary finds autonomy and totality, only after looking into herself and loosing her fear of death. In public politics she remains to be dominated by the forces of autocracy. In her vision the freedom of the individual has to be brought in harmony with reasonable principles of the community. But whereas both queens seem to be portrayed as independent and strong women in a male-centred world, the meeting between them shows female prejudice to be true, as the main argument between them is that one of them is prettier than the other, and that in the end, the worth of a woman is determined by her beauty only and both queens fully submit to this structure. “Monarchs are slaves to their rank - they are not allowed to follow their hearts”
Mary's life, marriages, reigns, alleged involvement in plots against Elizabeth, and subsequent execution made her become a polarizing and highly romanticised character in British and European history and art. "Mary Stuart" by Schiller is fictional, but based on real events, giving the play an educating, while entertaining touch. I usually don‘t particularly like to read plays, as they are intended to be seen on stage, but I read the biography of Mary Stuart simultaneously, which made me become totally interested in the topic. I have to admit that I knew nothing about Mary Stuart before and I would advice to read a bit about Mary and the conflict between her and Elizabeth beforehand, just to get the full picture and avoid confusion. After looking into Elizabeth I I get how she influenced an entire period and understand references to her I didn‘t get before.